Pet Peace of Mind program helps terminally ill people

by Symptom Advice on May 23, 2012

MUNROE FALLS, Ohio — Tell Catherine to go protect her mom, and the diminutive Jack Russell terrier jumps to Dolores Starcher’s side.

The companionship is one of the few pleasures the 75-year-old woman, who suffers from progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, can still enjoy. Not only is the pint-sized pooch Starcher’s protector, she is also her buddy and a constant source of pleasure, said Susan Oblisk, Starcher’s daughter.

“She calls Catherine her little angel,” Oblisk said.

Starcher, a patient in Summa Health System’s Palliative Care and Hospice Services, can keep the dog by her side because she is enrolled in Summa’s Pet Peace of Mind program that assists terminally ill people and their pets.

Pets are a lifeline and the reason people get out of their beds on some days, said Lori Flesher, a licensed social worker and bereavement coordinator for Summa. “Pets need us as much as we need them and they give us so much back. during a serious illness a person may experience physical and emotional changes that may make other people uncomfortable and so others may pull away or treat the person who is ill differently. but pets stick with us no matter what by providing unconditional love, listening to us and providing physical contact,” she said.

Kathy Bailey of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, a volunteer in the program since its inception in 2009, visits Starcher and brings food for Katherine, named for actor Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The program, funded in part by a $5,000 grant from the Banfield Charitable Trust and matched by Summa, is staffed by volunteers, said Summa volunteer coordinator Angela Tetrick.

“It’s designed to assist hospice patients and their families where they are least able to care for their pets. we try to help where there is a financial need for food, supplies, medicine and veterinary care,” Tetrick said.

Future plans for the program include dog walking, pet cleanup, fostering, and pet transportation, she said.

The most unusual situation where the group was called upon was to help with a flock of chickens: “You could tell this patient’s life was all about these chickens. The whole house was decorated with chickens and chickens were all over the backyard,” she said.

PSP is a rare degenerative neurological disease that affects one in every 100,000 people older than 60. The disease appears to affect men more than women, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. some of its early symptoms mimic those of Parkinson’s disease, a much more common illness.

Starcher, who was the lead majorette at Copley High School, now has limited vision and stiffness in her neck that causes her chin to tilt upwards. her facial movements are restricted and her eyes remain wide open — all common symptoms of PSP.

When Starcher isn’t busy during the day, you can find Catherine perched in her lap or surveying the activity in the room from the back of Starcher’s chair, her preferred place to rest.

Starcher, who was an artist, hand-decorated some of the most beautiful touches in her former Hudson home, said her daughter. Oblisk has tried to keep her mother surrounded by her favorite things, including a copy of the Mona Lisa, family photos, her own furniture — and of course, Katherine.

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